Degree Requirements

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Remember: You have 8 semesters to fulfill these requirements and many of them will be covered by courses in your major or other courses you take out of interest. Your course selection for your first Cornell semester should not be based on what requirements courses fulfill.

1. Two first-year writing seminars (FWS). A 5 on either the AP English Composition or Literature exam, or a 7 on the IB HL English Literature or Language exam will count towards one of these seminars. First-year students should plan to take an FWS during their first semester at Cornell.

2. Foreign language requirement. A student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell. AP and IB credits cannot complete this requirement, but usually indicate that you place into a higher level course. Note: Native speakers of a foreign language may be exempted from this requirement. To plan your first language course at Cornell, consult the Foreign Language section of this website.

3. Distribution requirements:

  • Four courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS-AS) and Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR-AS): Students must take 2 courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS), 1 in Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR), and 1 course that is either in PBS-AS or MQR-AS.
  • Five Arts & Sciences courses of 3 or more credits from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:

            --Cultural Analysis (CA-AS)
            --Historical Analysis (HA-AS)
            --Knowledge, Cognition, & Moral Reasoning (KCM-AS)
            --Literature & the Arts (LA-AS)
            --Social & Behavioral Analysis (SBA-AS)


  • To fulfill the requirements, courses must contain the suffix -AS. Courses offered outside of the college that are designated HA, CA, LA, KCM, SBA, PBS, or MQR without the -AS suffix in the Class Roster will not fulfill your requirements.
  • Courses counting toward a major may also count to fulfill distribution requirements.
  • AP,IB and A-Level credits may not be used to meet distribution requirements.

4. Breadth requirements:

  • Geographic breadth requirement (GB): One course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe. Courses fulfilling this requirement are marked with a GB in the Class Roster.
  • Historic breadth requirement (HB): One course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century. Courses fulfilling this requirement are marked with an HB in the Class Roster.


  • Courses designated GHB will satisfy both breadth requirements.
  • Distribution and major courses may overlap with the breadth requirements.
  • AP, IB and A-Level credits may not be used to meet breadth requirements.

5. Major: Requirements will vary by department. See also the Thinking About a Major section of this website.

6. Electives: Four or five courses (totaling at least 15 credits), not used to fulfill other requirements and not in the major field. If you major in more than one subject, you are exempted from this requirement. Note: AP, IB, A-Level and transfer credits may be used to meet the elective requirement.

7. Residence: Eight full-time semesters, unless you can successfully complete all other requirements in fewer than eight semesters and meet the additional criteria to accelerate graduation.

8. 34 courses: A full course is 3 or 4 credits and a half course is 2 credits. Note: AP, IB or A-Level credits may be used to meet the 34-course requirement.

9. 120 credits, 100 of which must be from the College of Arts & Sciences. 100 credits in Arts & Sciences is a minimum number, as is the 120 credit total. Students can take more than 20 credits outside of the College as long as they take 100 credits within; they can also take all their credits in Arts & Sciences and accumulate more than 120. Note: AP, IB, and A-Level credits count toward the 120 total credits but not toward the 100 A&S credits.

10.  Passing a swimming test and two courses in physical education.

Students Said...

"For one thing, forget those graduation requirements. You are new to Cornell and if you don't take some classes you like this semester, it is possible that you won't ever take them. This is a time for you to explore and once you enjoy yourself, those requirements will eventually take care of themselves." - Kaiwen Zheng, '18

"Don't think that you have to have everything figured out when you begin. You are allowed to take a class that will have absolutely nothing to do with the major you end up declaring, just to see what it's like. And in fact, you SHOULD take those classes when you are a freshman. I am a history and government major and I took a psychology class my first semester and it was absolutely fascinating." - Samantha Briggs, '16

"I went into my first year with an idea what major I wanted but not a lot of information about the program or the materials. I took two classes in that major and three more in other departments, just for fun. I started fulfilling a lot of Arts & Sciences requirements that semester, even with the 'just for fun' classes." - Charlotte Carew-Miller, '16

Next: First-Year Writing Seminars